Circulating corticosterone levels vary during exposure to anthropogenic stimuli and show weak correlation with behavior across an urban gradient in house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Melinda Weaver, Sisi Gao, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Urban environments are rapidly expanding and presenting animal populations with novel challenges, many of which are thought to be stressors that contribute to low biodiversity. However, studies on stress responses in urban vs rural populations have produced mixed results, and many of these studies use a standard stressor that cannot be replicated in the wild (e.g. restraining an animal in a bag). Pairing physiological and behavioral measurements in response to urban-related stressors improves our understanding of the mechanism underlying animal success in human-dominated landscapes. Here, we examined the physiological stress (plasma corticosterone, CORT) responses of a songbird species (the house finch, Haemorhous mexicanus) to two different anthropogenic stimuli – (1) the presence of a human and (2) a captive environment containing man-made objects. During three field seasons (summer 2012, winter 2014, and winter 2015), we captured birds at six sites along an urban gradient in Phoenix, Arizona, USA and measured plasma CORT levels both before and after each trial. Though CORT levels did increase post-human exposure, though not during exposure to novel environment, indicating only one of the treatments caused a physiological response, baseline or post-trial plasma CORT levels did not differ between finches between urban and rural birds in 2012 or 2014. However, rural birds demonstrated relatively low pre- and post-trial plasma CORT levels during the human-exposure trials in 2015. Furthermore, we found few correlations between behavioral and physiological responses. A significant positive correlation was only detected between activity behavior after human approach and post-trial plasma CORT levels in 2012. Taken together, our results reveal a weak, conditional relationship between stress physiology, behavioral responses, and urbanization in house finches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018



  • Behavior
  • Birds
  • Boldness
  • Exploration
  • Plasticity
  • Stress
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology

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